Sometimes, an artist comes around and fills a void that the music world didn’t even know it had. Over the past year or so, North Carolina’s DaBaby has went from a rapper that was swept up in the undertow of hip-hop to standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the genre’s elite. Back in 2016, Jonathan Lyndale Kirk—then known as Baby Jesus—was middling in the game, mimicking other MC’s styles and struggling to capture that wave that’d catapult him to stardom. He’d reach the stature that he aspired to by letting his magnetic personality bubble to the surface. Thrust into stardom by his debut album Baby On Baby, the young C.E.O took from DMX’s playbook from circa 1998 by delivering his sophomore effort Kirk just six months later.
In a testament to how much his stock had grown in the interim period, Kirk achieved what his first Interscope-affiliated offering couldn’t as it entered at number 1 on the Billboard 200.
DaBaby performing at Rolling Loud NYC 2019 - Image by HNHHAs to how he hurdled from number seven to the top spot, the answer is simple. From March onwards, DaBaby has been on a momentous feature run that’s seen him crop up in every conceivable pocket of the musical landscape. All doused in his innate charisma and boisterous flow, the 27-year-old has went from languishing on the fringes to commanding a hefty fee for his services.
“It's six digits," he told the LA Leakers. "God is great. It's six of 'em…. I don’t give a fuck if they get offended or not because I use to pay to play. You just gotta respect the game, man.”
Content to make his presence felt on songs by either globe-trotting artists or young rappers on the come-up, these guest appearances have been pivotal in fashioning the enviable spot that DaBaby now holds and it’s something that he point blank refuses to relent on. Seeing as we’re reaching the dying embers of the year, it’s time to pinpoint his ten finest features of 2019 and rank them accordingly.
10. Lizzo - Truth Hurts (Remix)While DaBaby normally possesses an uncanny ability to mould that signature flow to any musical direction, his attempt to get on “Truth Hurts” feels a bit clunky and mechanical, despite the fact that the record itself is his typical uptempo vibe. That said, it’d be disingenuous to write a list about his 2019 features and not mention his appearance alongside Lizzo based on cultural significance alone. Now that she’s transcended any conceivable genre boundaries or demographic through line, the fact that the fully fledged pop star/occasional flautist called on DaBaby for a remix attests to the mainstream appeal that he harbours.
9. Lil Nas X - PaniniIf anyone could stake their claim to have eclipsed DaBaby’s massive climb to fame this year, it’d be Lil Nas X. The only difference is that where the jury is still out on where the Atlantan will land in the game after his 7 EP, his NC counterpart has exhibited no signs of fatigue. Over that exceedingly catchy melody and production from Dot Da Genius and Take A Day Trip, Baby Jesus illuminates the audience on his own grievance with his former flame and seamlessly taps into the overarching narrative of the track. Riding the beat with undeniable ease, DaBaby even takes time out to slyly allude to the thematic similarities between their breakout hits as he spits, “She watched that “Walker Texas Ranger”, say I remind her of Nas X, I'm talkin' "Old Town Road," all my hoes down low, they like girls and I like girls, three at a time, sometimes four.”
8. YK Osiris - Freaky DancerConceived with the club in mind, YK Osiris and DaBaby may approach the music world from different angles but have undeniable chemistry on wax. Similarly prone to declaring themselves to be the next big thing in music, the clash of styles between these two 2019 XXL Freshman worked better than many would’ve anticipated on the engrossing “Freaky Dancer.” An ode to strippers and pole dancers in the traditional vein, DaBaby’s verse epitomizes one of his key strengths that’s served him well over the past year of features. Where other rappers feel the need to get verbose on another artist’s track and really stamp their imprint on it, Baby keeps things succinct and punchy in a way that prevents listener fatigue. Loaded with his usual brand of comical imagery and self-assured raunchiness, this is DaBaby by the numbers but that’s by no means a bad thing.
7. YG - Stop Snitchin’ RemixLaser focused towards Tekashi 6ix9ine, YG’s “Stop Snitchin” was never crafted with the intention of mincing words. From its pejorative mantra of a chorus to Young Gangsta’s no-nonsense bars towards informants and cooperating parties, the 4REAL 4REAL single certainly served its purpose as a retort to the culture of cooperation, but there was a sense that it ultimately failed to set the heather alight in the way that YG may have envisioned. Then in June of this year, Baby Jesus came along and gave it a new lease of life on the remix. Jovial and authoritative all in one fell swoop, his verse saw him espouse his dominance over lesser men and contained no shortage of allusions to taking their love interests for good measure. Laden with the charismatic bars that he’s became so renowned for—"soon as I woke up, she give me head, that’s breakfast in bed, told on your n***a he went fed, they found out you scared”—the remix and its Cole Bennett-helmed video boasts more views on YouTube than the original incarnation and is a clear-cut case of why it’s advisable to have DaBaby hop on your project in any capacity.
6. Jamz - Baby ShowerAfter racking up production credits with artists such as A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie, Kap G, Ski Mask The Slump God and Asian Da Brat, New York’s Jamz pulled off a real coup when he enlisted Lil Baby and DaBaby for his debut single “Baby Shower.” Formulated in a a similar format to Quality’s Control’s enlistment of the two, Lil Baby sets the scene before the Billion Dollar Baby Ent CEO emerges in fine fettle. The only difference is that the disparity between the two is a lot more glaring on this occasion.
Talented as he is, Lil Baby’s style isn’t as conducive to hitting a homerun on this sort of production as his peer and that’s definitely the case this time around. Flourishing in his pocket, the verse sees DaBaby acknowledging the momentum that he’s accrued over the year. From getting “off a flight with two pistols” to heading to the XXL Freshman shoot on his own schedule, the gradual shift towards a more considered and contemplative delivery proves that he doesn’t need to rely on the more bombastic aspects of his persona to succeed. Veering from jovial and energized to a more sinister tone, this blistering showing earns a spot by embodying the duality that had made him into such a continually interesting proposition in the first place.
5. Quality Control – Baby
DaBaby and Lil Baby perform together at the BET Hip-Hop Awards 2019 - Moses Robinson/Getty ImagesAs much it could’ve easily been a one-off novelty, the fusion of DaBaby and Lil Baby has proved itself to be conducive to solid output at every turn. From the “TODAY Remix” through to Kirk’s “TOES” and beyond, the pairing’s synergy is undeniable and hasn’t waned as the NC rapper began to make his ascent up to the same stature in the game as his ATLien namesake. Complete with one of the finest Scarface homages that hip-hop has produced this decade, both men excel on this QC-bankrolled number. Where his frequent collaborator handles the more melodic facets of the track, DaBaby comes through with a gripping verse that makes audacious claims of “Baby gettin’ jiggy, on stage with the Glizzy/Baby CEO, he shake the game like he Diddy.” Premature as that status may seem, it’s hard not to grant them some validity when DaBaby delivers them with this much self-belief.
4. Post Malone - EnemiesWhen DaBaby claimed the coveted top spot on the billboards with Kirk, his status as a superstar in-the-making was all but confirmed. But what makes the accomplishment all the more resounding is that he overthrew an album that he was featured on to do so. Following a three-week spell of dominance, the NC rapper’s sophomore project knocked Post Malone’s Hollywood’s Bleeding from its perch. Unlikely as their collaboration may seem, DaBaby’s appearance on “Enemies” elevated it from a relatively listless album filler to something tantamount to an event. Ramping up to high gear, he keeps within the parameters of the track’s theme and-- amid comically threatening to buy a Prius just to belittle a friend turned foe-- offers up a philosophical musing in his own offhand way, proclaiming
“Friends are like the autumn, every year they leavin'
I'ma rake 'em in a pile, throw 'em in a bag
Tie them bitches up and leave 'em.”
3. Gucci Mane - Richer Than ErrybodyFor the longest time, Guwop has acted as an arbiter of taste when it comes to the next wave of hard-edged MC’s. From Rich Homie Quan to Young Thug, Gucci’s eye for talent came in handy once more when he enlisted NBA Youngboy and DaBaby for an anthemic track from Woptober II. Helmed by Lex Luger, this criminally underrated track sees the three MC’s tapping into the darkest recesses of their personalities for an imposing banger. While Youngboy leaves with the spoils on this one, DaBaby proves that he’s impervious to slacking off with a verse that speaks to his readiness for war as and when it comes around. “If a lil' n***a try me and send out a gun down, that n***a won't live to see sun up,” he spits with a sincerity that’s at once frightening and enthralling.
2. Megan Da Stallion - Cash Shit
DaBaby and Megan Thee Stallion pose together at the BET Hip-Hop Awards 2019 - Johnny Nunez/Getty ImagesIf there was a female parallel of DaBaby over the last year, it’s undoubtedly Megan Thee Stallion. Propelled from the genre’s outer circle and into the hearts and minds of the wider consumer, the two have became the toast of the commercial hip-hop world. As a result, it seemed only natural that the two would cross paths sooner rather than later. Thankfully, their first liaison did anything but disappoint. Squaring off on one of the highlights from Megan’s Fever mixtape, the two go toe to toe on the vulgarity stakes while its pared-back beat gives plenty of room for DaBaby to colour in the blanks in the manner we’re accustomed to. Told from two differing perspectives, Baby’s verse is the sound of him steering into his status as a lothario in a way that likely exacerbated B Simone’s well-documented thirst for the MC.
1. Dreamville - Under The SunKept under wraps until its release, no one knew exactly what to expect from the star-studded Revenge Of The Dreamers III. Billowing with high-ranking artists, the highly-publicized, invitation only recording sessions had fans playing fantasy matchmaker and speculating on who’d steal the show. Yet amid all the speculation, one thing no one would’ve put forth was that DaBaby would be the main talking point on a track that featured J. Cole, Lute and a hook from king Kendrick himself. Flanked by two of Carolina’s finest and a majestic, soulful beat from Pluss, Christo & Nice Rec, Baby Jesus fends off a tenacious verse from Dreamville’s own Lute to come out on top. Where some have pilloried DaBaby for a lack of versatility, “Under The Sun” showed the wider applicability of his flow beyond Jetsonmade’s production or trap beats of a similar template. A passing of the torch moment from one North Carolinian great to the next, the decision to let the beat subside and allow DaBaby to drill each hard-hitting syllable into the listener’s face paid off in spades and clarified that he can hold his own in any circumstance. Even if he’s as prolific with the features in 2020, he’ll be hard pushed to deliver a mission statement of a verse that lands quite like this.
What was your favourite DaBaby feature of 2019? Sound off down in the comments: